Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thanksgiving Dinner is Just Dinner

For all the fuss I make about Christmas, Thanksgiving may actually be my favorite holiday.  A day of eating, d drinking and lounging?  What's not to like? Still, the first time I was planning to host a crowd for Thanksgiving I was nervous. I called my mom and asked for advice. She told me something that has helped me every year since, "Thanksgiving isn't hard." And it isn't.

Multitudes of sitcoms and movies have reinforced a myth that Thanksgiving dinner inevitably is a disaster. Pair that with hosts who may rarely entertain (or even cook) on other days of the year plus the pressure of potentially judgmental relatives, and it's easy to see how people could get freaked out.

If you are feeling the pressure of hosting Thanksgiving take a deep breath and say it with me, "It's just a dinner."  Actually, roasting a turkey, like most cooking that occurs over several hours, is pretty forgiving.  If you relax you and follow the recipes you should be fine, but here are some tips to reduce your stress and increase your chances of a successful Thanksgiving meal:
Plan for a cocktail hour (or at least a snack time). Hungry, impatient guests will only make you anxious. Put out some food that your guests can pick at. Choose things that won't add to your stress. Cheese and crackers or bowls of nuts are fine. Serve some wine. If everyone is relaxed and being fed a little you won't feel as rushed to get the meal to the table.

Simplify the food. Traditional Thanksgiving meals are made up of basic homey foods. There is no need to attempt the gourmet recipe you saw on the cover of a food magazine.

Don't do anything you don't want to do. I personally don't like gravy, and I don't like making it since it generally needs to be done at the last minute (see below). After a few holidays I noticed that my friends don't use a lot of gravy either, so I stopped making it. I buy a jar of gravy. I warm it and add some extra seasoning. It's fine, and I save my homemade efforts for stuff I enjoy. Maybe you love gravy. Fine. The point is that only making things you love will be more rewarding and therefore less stressful.

Ask for help. Whether you ask people to bring something or just ask them to mash some potatoes most guests are happy to help. Of course, if people in your kitchen add to your stress make sure they have something to keep their attention in the other room. If cocktails and snacks aren't enough to keep them away, enlist someone to lead a party game. Be sure to have cards or a simple group game like Apples-to-Apples ready to go just in case.

Avoid things that have to be prepared at the last minute.  As I suggested in my previous post, front loading your schedule is a good way to make your day less stressful AND give you a chance to actually spend time with your guests.  It's not to late to tweak your menu a bit to make this possible. And lest you think that simple, make-ahead items are boring, below is a recipe one of my Thanksgiving crowd pleasers: Brandied Cranberries.

But if you are still nervous about preparing the meal keep your sense of humor and some delivery menus nearby. Or just go out. Thanksgiving should be about giving thanks for what you have, if skill as a hostess is not one of those things that's okay.

Brandied Cranberries (from my mom)
Pick over 4 cups (approximately 1 lb) of fresh or frozen cranberries pulling out any bad ones. Line a large baking pan with foil and arrange berries on it in a single layer. Sprinkle 2 generous cups of sugar over berries. (It will look like too much, but it won't be.) Cover with another piece of foil and seal the edges. Bake in 350 degree oven for one hour. Cool. Mix with a quarter cup of brandy or cognac and sprinkle with sugar to taste. You can store the cranberries in the refrigerator for several days.

1 comment:

red pen mama said...

This is fantastic advice. I haven't hosted Thankgiving dinner yet (there's that pesky vegetarian thing I have going on), but I have tackled Christmas Eve and other activities (like bday parties). I do just like you suggest here: keep it simple and ask for help. People don't say things like, "Is there something I can bring?" without knowing that the answer could be yes. Even if it's no, a nice appetizer, or a bottle of wine, or even a dish that addresses your food preferences (whether is be allergy or life-style choice) is always appreciated. Trust me!


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